Thursday, August 16, 2012

Here's how every child can have an excellent teacher--without firing any teachers!

There’s very good evidence that teacher quality matters a lot in terms of student performance in school and success later on in life. The economist Raj Chetty of Harvard, for example, has found that students randomly placed with more experienced kindergarten teachers not only perform better on tests but earn more and save more for retirement as adults, are likelier to go to college, and go to better colleges than their peers with less experienced teachers. Eric Hanushek of Stanford estimates that a good teacher – defined as at the 84th percentile, or one standard deviation above the mean for you stats nerds – provides students with test scores associated with an increase of between $22,000 and $46,000 in lifetime earnings.--Washington Post

Lots of kids get stuck for years with various incompetent teachers, but it doesn't have to be that way. We can fix the problem. And save money!

Am I crazy to think this?


Here's the comparison for four classrooms and one extra salary (in thousands):

Currently: $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 = $300

New plan: $100 + $50 + $50 + $50 + $50 = $300


An excellent teacher could come into each classroom for just a few hours a week and make a huge difference--if that teacher had responsibility for student success and authority to make decisions.

Parents should not need political clout to get a good teacher for their child. Every student should--and could--have a great teacher, without wasting time and energy on the losing battle to fire incompetent teachers.

The truth is that the critical moments in learning don't happen continuously five hours a day. They add up to at most a couple of hours each day, and probably much less. The rest of the time an ordinary, mediocre teacher can handle the skill practice and lesson reinforcement, computer activities, art projects, silent reading (how much skill is needed to be in charge of that?) and so on.


At my old school we were paying a top salary--well over $60,000, for a computer teacher who was very nice, but her job was merely to familiarize kids with computer programs. An aide could have done the job. When the principal (Ollie Matos) tried to switch that computer teacher to giving basic reading and math lessons, the teachers went ballistic. The story became a sensation in the San Diego Press, and a group of angry teachers were named the "Castle Park Five" by San Diego Union-Tribune editor Don Sevrens. Basically, what the teachers wanted was 45 minutes a week in which they could send their students to another teacher. But in my plan, classroom teachers would have this kind of help and relief for more than an entire day each week! The nice computer teacher could become a master teacher!

Resource teachers like computer teachers and language and math support teachers could become master teachers. And let's face it: how much good are those resource teachers able to do? They go around and offer suggestions, but they are really doing the equivalent of passing out band-aids. I would never want such a job. It might be relaxing not to have direct responsibility for student learning, but isn't that the point of being a teacher?


Academics would not be the only thing that master teachers would be responsible for. Abusive, immature teachers with a habit of undermining students could be overruled and guided by the master teacher.


Why do we pay bad teachers the same amount of money as good teachers? It makes no sense!

Excellent teachers should be paid much more than average teachers, and could be responsible for all students in several classrooms.

Each classroom could have a full-time regular teacher who be paid a lower salary, but would be eligible to become a master teacher. The master teacher would also be responsible for helping and guiding the regular teacher.

Here is a chart of average teacher salaries in the US.

In California the average teacher salary is roughly $60,000 (with a starting salary of $35,000.)

We could allow regular teachers to rise in salary to an average of $45 thousand, and allow master teachers to rise to an average of $90 thousand--for overseeing four classrooms.

Money for support teachers and teacher aides would be switched to master teacher positions in the classrooms. (Of course, special education would still require teacher aides.) Some people who are currently teacher aides could become regular teachers.)

Here's the comparison for four classrooms and one extra salary (in thousands):

Currently: $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 + $60 = $300

New plan: $92 + $47 + $47 + $47 + $47 = $300


Of course, meaningful evaluations of teachers would have to be instituted to make this plan work. Current evaluation systems are worse than useless. My plan would call for frequent observations by both master and regular teachers, but they would observe classrooms in other districts to keep school politics out of the process as much as possible. The observations would have a beneficial side effect: they would allow teachers to get pick up new ideas.

I believe it would be good to use student test scores when choosing who is to be a master teacher, but I don't think it's absolutely necessary. The good thing about it is that it would take some of the politics out of teacher evaluation. It should be noted that although student test scores vary widely from year to year for most teachers, some teachers do get consistently high scores from their students year after year.

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